Rationalist Lent is over. How did it go for everyone? Did you learn anything about yourself / superstimuli / pica / etc.?

I had a pretty good time giving up porn, which I stuck to. I also masturbated much more sparingly, which had interesting and pleasant effects on my sex drive. This is part of a longer project I'm engaging in of getting more in touch with my sexuality and it's been going well so far. I have an increasingly strong sense now of my past porn consumption as having been pretty bad for me - in machine learning terms, it's adversarial training data, very closely analogous to junk food. Porn, like many of my previous addictions (mostly various forms of fiction), has also felt much less tempting over the last 2 months because my life has gotten a lot better. Long story.

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[I don't feel like this comment is done, but better to post incomplete things than to not post at all]

As you predicted, my thing was hard. As I predicted, my thing was an interesting experiment and gave me a lot to think about. I think that's not really in the spirit of Lent, but it was useful for me (she said, demonstrating her perpetual need to justify herself in the face of imagined criticism). Thoughts:

  • For the most part the thing wasn't hard because I didn't notice it happening, it was hard because every time I did it, it felt like in that particular instance the thing I was saying really was true.
    • One contributing factor to this was that the thing was poorly defined: e.g., does excessive apologizing count as putting myself down? (There were dozens of other edge cases like this that aren't immediately springing to mind.)
    • There were situations in which it felt disingenuous to be positive about myself, e.g. meetings with my manager. But maybe the thing is about framing and not objective facts - e.g. I could frame things as opportunities for improvement rather than as 'shortcomings', which sounds more like a reflection on my intrinsic worth.
  • I am pretty confused about to what extent the things that come out of my mouth correspond to actual beliefs I have about myself. They're more reflexive than reflective.
    • Something about signaling contributes here, probably. I'm pretty confident that I don't put myself down in an attempt to get compliments from others, because compliments make me uncomfortable and annoyed and I'd be quite confused if I were subconsciously fishing for them. A more likely source of this is that I really hate disappointing (or otherwise inconveniencing) people and sort of design my entire life to avoid ever doing that. So if I set expectations low (by putting myself down), it means I need to reach a lower bar in order to not disappoint people, which means there's less pressure on me.
  • I'm concerned that I failed with abandon, in such a way that I actually made the thing worse by trying. This was a failure mode I didn't foresee (but should have), where I was like, "well, I failed at my goal of being more positive about myself, I guess I'm a failure."

Some other notes I wrote at the ~halfway point (7 March):

  • Not saying negative things about myself (insofar as I've actually been doing it) hasn't had any apparent effect on my sense of self efficacy or self worth. I think some of this is that I'm not vocalizing the negativity but I'm still thinking it. Maybe it would be better to explicitly say positive things rather than avoiding negative ones.
  • I'm less prone to start messages with "sorry I'm stupid" or things to that effect, but that might just be basic professionalism and not wanting to put other people in a position where they feel like they have to refute the negative things I say about myself.
  • I still feel like I should be allowed to say things when I feel like they're objectively true, but of course that defeats the whole purpose.
  • I think sometimes Oli mistakes me being exhausted for me just having low self-efficacy in general (e.g. I say I "can't" go do something when what I mean is I'm too tired to do it right now). I think I should be more careful to draw a distinction between those, so I don't reinforce an image of me as helpless.

Final thought:

  • Holy **** what's wrong with me why am I so bad at being positive about myself get it the **** together. I know personal progress is a long and difficult road but sometimes I wonder if just getting a good slap in the face and having someone shout "GET IT TOGETHER" would fix me. Probably not. I guess I have to do the hard thing. Boo.
A more likely source of this is that I really hate disappointing (or otherwise inconveniencing) people and sort of design my entire life to avoid ever doing that.
Holy **** what's wrong with me why am I so bad at being positive about myself get it the **** together.

mingyuan, it sounds to me like you have a thing, and I think this was not quite the tool for addressing the thing. Some tools that might address the thing, in no particular order: a silent meditation retreat, circling with skilled facilitators, therapy (maybe CBT, DBT, or ACT, but who knows, I ain't a therapist), an ayahuasca retreat, carefully reading and doing the exercises in the book mentioned in this blog post by Kaj Sotala.

Worked great. I chose facebook. These were my observations

1. Well, confirming the obvious, the platform actually is optimized to eat as much time and attention as possible. I found it quite easy to not open fb at all, but when I needed to post something work-related several times, it was hard not to check if someone interacts with it, comments, etd.

2. I partly substituted tracking "general discussion" on my facebook with tracking the general discussion on LessWrong. While generally it seems a positive change, I lost some interesting links e.g. from AI Safety Discussion. Idea: if someone would make a periodic digest and post it here I would love it.

3. Writing fb statuses correlated with the fact that I wrote more useful texts.

A potential disadvantage is my fb still seems a better environment for idea incubation or constructive criticism than current LW or EA fora. What I've been doing is to write in google docs and ask friends for comments privately.

4. What is hard to replace are invitations to local events, however, I usually deal with the undersupply of evenings, not undersupply of events.

5. Overall, I find that I was more successful in the things I care about.

Big thanks for the lent posting.

Conclusion: I'll mostly leave facebook for at least a few months, or until I really need something that fb offers due to changed circumstances. I'm not going to delete accounts or anything like that, just not follow the discussion there or post. It will likely cost me some "weak but important" social ties, but seems worth it.

  1. Writing fb statuses correlated with the fact that I wrote more useful texts.

A potential disadvantage is my fb still seems a better environment for idea incubation or constructive criticism than current LW or EA fora. What I’ve been doing is to write in google docs and ask friends for comments privately.

What I currently do for this sort of thing is use IRC or Discord friends to get that private commentary. Because it's a real time discussion medium it's usually easy to find some people I trust to give my work a look.

Theoretically the private messaging tools here on LessWrong should be helping to facilitate something similar, but they're currently very underdeveloped. GreaterWrong is trying to implement messaging tools in their client right now, but at the moment it's read only.

Glad you found this helpful, Jan!

Didn't have youtube or Netflix on my laptop, also no facebook. I have a sense that this helped me not use them a lot (though by the end I was regularly using youtube on my phone). I think probably while this doesn't feel yummy to do a lot, it's the right trade-off, and once I've finished running the upcoming facebook events I'm running, I'll probably block them again.

This was a super helpful kickstart for me doing this, thank Qiaochu!

I gave up obvious sugar.

What surprised me was how much power came from, "I'm unambiguously declaring my intent to not do this thing, and there's even a bit of ceremony/higher reason."

It rarely felt like I had to "decide" to not have sugar. It felt like that was just a thing I wasn't doing any more. Those two things might not sound very different, but I seem to experience them completely differently. I've strongly updated my beliefs on the power of "just committing".

Yeah, I went from playing 20+ hours a week of computer games to zero, with only a couple moments where some web flash game didn't quite register as a "game" until I had already started, but then once I realized it was quick to deactivate.

Kinda freaked out actually, although wary of using this power too often.

Yeah, I think it's an important feature of Lent that it only comes around once a year, so you can commit and enjoy the group ceremony bit of it knowing that you're not going to be asked to do this sort of thing all the time.

Reminds me of the distinction of symmetric and asymmetric techniques (I think that's a CFAR handle, but I don't remember).

"Just committing" seems to be a powerful a̶s̶y̶m̶m̶e̶t̶r̶i̶c̶ symmetric technique. Here's the process that I roughly follow to get utility from the technique, without "just committing" to things which are bad ideas:

  • Define exactly what the thing is that I'm committing to doing or not doing.
  • Make a very specific deadline for the next time this rule will be evaluated (make it a time and place where you don't face the pressures of the decision context).
  • You don't get to argue with the rule until the next deadline (unless lives are at stake)

For me, I notice that it's very hard for me to completely relax into a hard rule unless I trust myself to reevaluate it later.

(relevant: hard rules)

I think you mean symmetric? Symmetric is the one where it doesn't matter whether the thing you're doing is good or bad. The handle comes from SSC.

Oops, that makes more sense.

After giving up browsing the internet during lectures and meetings:

  • Lectures and meetings really are boring sometimes, and it makes sense to not pay attention during bits of them.
  • I am not missing out on juicy content by spending a few hours off the internet.
  • I suspect that it's easier to pay attention again after drawing little doodles than after reading things.
  • I didn't notice any increase in the ability to focus for long periods of time.
  • I look forward to doing similar things for one-month periods in the future (in particular, doing some combination of fasting, journalling, and maybe no anime for April).

I was surprised how well it worked. I had forbidden myself: Reddit, Hacker News, Porn, facebook wall (events and so on still allowed), and youtube (with exception for academic lectures). What I had learnt:

  • Knowing this is a ritual done together helped me.
  • I was suprised that it was not tempting to go to reddit/HN/FB. Except when I wanted to kill some time every few days. But then it was still easy to just read some articles from getpocket.com.
  • Often, during evenings, I crave instant gratification that I used to get on these websites. Now I usually go for a walk, or watch some lecture. I want to find something better to do when I am tired. This is frustrating
  • I still watched porn a few times. That is only violation of this lent. That was when it was evening and I was very tired and really strongly wanted gratification and was horny. But still I had watch porn much less than I would be otherwise.
  • I do not learn much useful from HN.
  • I want to continue like this, but I am not sure how to make me follow the rules.

I was semi-abstaining from Reddit (outside work) and Twitter (altogether). I didn't miss Twitter much at all. I did end up going on Reddit a bit for specific hobby/game-related things, but I mostly managed to avoid politics, memes, and other addictive things. Overall I think it was somewhat helpful in terms of avoiding stuff that distracted me from my real problems via anxious-consumption, and I had fewer bouts of political anger. Not sure how I'll take it moving forward - I'll probably stay off Twitter at least. Will have to think about how I want to approach Reddit.

I committed to give up all obvious sugar except birthday cakes, which ended up being more like "give up obvious sugar except offered" – there were 3 non-birthday occasions where I caved in. I'm still happy with the result: Before this lent, I often found myself in the situation that I saw some sweets, knew that I actually don't like them that much, but ate them anyway. At least during the days since end of lent (2 days earlier for me because I went to Italy and the traditional and only breakfast available seems to be cookies and jam), I was able to resist precisely these situations, and I hope it won't take too much effort to keep it that way.

I learned from this experience that commitments are very effective for me personally (as opposed to "generally a good thing") and I want to do this more regularly than just once a year.